State of Washington
Ethics Advisory CommitteeOpinion 91-27
(1) Can a judicial officer attend any of the following events on a complimentary basis:
(a) a luncheon sponsored by a law firm and a trade council?
(b) a law firm holiday open house or similar type of open house where snacks and/or beverages may be offered?
(c) a breakfast, luncheon, dinner or seminar sponsored by a local, state or national bar association?
(d) a breakfast, luncheon, dinner or seminar sponsored by an association of plaintiffs' lawyers, defense lawyers or other specialized segment of the bar?
(e) a breakfast, luncheon or dinner sponsored by a law school?
(f) a Washington State Bar Association business meeting and/or continuing legal education (CLE) program:
(i) where meals and beverages are offered; and/or
(ii) where a standard hotel accommodation is provided while attending the meeting?
(2) Would the answers to any of the foregoing questions be different if the judicial officer is taking part in the event as a speaker, a seminar teacher or otherwise participating in one or more panel discussions put on as a part of the meeting or CLE program?
(3) On a related subject, can a judicial officer accept a judicial membership in an association of defense lawyers, plaintiffs' lawyers or other specialized segment of the bar?
CJC Canon 2(B) provides in part that judges should not convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence them. CJC Canon 4(A) provides that judges may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. Finally, CJC Canon 5(C)(4) provides in part that judges and their spouses may accept an invitation to attend a bar-related function or activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice and judges or members of their families residing in their households may accept ordinary social hospitality.
Generally, judges may accept ordinary social hospitality which may include all of the activities outlined in Questions 1 and 2 above. The appropriateness of acceptance of ordinary social hospitality is not affected by whether a judge is merely a guest or a participant at the event.
With respect to Questions 1(a) and (d), that is, attending a luncheon sponsored by a law firm or trade council or a breakfast, luncheon, dinner or seminar sponsored by an association of plaintiffs' lawyers, defense lawyers or other specialized segment of the bar, judges must consider all of the circumstances surrounding the event before making the decision to attend. This may include examining the announcement or invitation. Judges should determine whether their position will be exploited or whether their impartiality might be called into question. Judges should consider whether their attendance at such an event would cause a reasonable person to question their impartiality. Judges, however, should keep in mind the isolation which might result if they declined outright all invitations extended by such groups.
A judge or justice cannot accept a judicial membership in an association of defense lawyers, plaintiffs' lawyers or other specialized segment of the Bar as that would cause a judge's impartiality to be questioned which is interdicted by Canon 2(B).
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